Richland vs. Warrior Run – March 7, 2020

Richland’s Caleb Burke drives the baseline in front of Warrior Run’s Braden Bomberger during their PIAA Class AAA first-round game at Greater Johnstown High School on Saturday, March 7, 2020.

The PIAA Board of Directors suspended the basketball state championship tournaments, and the boys and girls swimming and diving championships for at least two weeks due to concerns about the coronavirus.

The PIAA Board voted unanimously on Thursday morning to take such significant steps.

"The Board of Directors are committed to promoting an environment of healthy athletic competition that is consistent with current health department and the Centers for the Disease Control guidelines," PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert A. Lombardi said in a statement released Thursday.

Seven area high school basketball teams remain in the PIAA Tournament, which had been scheduled to begin the quarterfinal round on Friday and Saturday at sites throughout the state.

Boys basketball teams still playing are: Berlin Brothersvalley; Bishop Carroll Catholic; North Star; and Richland.

Girls basketball teams in the playoffs are: Bishop McCort Catholic; Cambria Heights; and Forest Hills.

The PIAA statement follows:

"PIAA Board of Directors decided this morning by a unanimous vote to suspend the PIAA basketball and AA boys’ and girls’ swimming and diving championships for minimally a two week period. The AAA swimming and diving championships at Bucknell University have been truncated with limited spectators and will conclude at the end of today’s mid-afternoon diving session. The Board of Directors, in consultation with various health departments, believes this action is in the best interest of our member schools, their student-athletes, sports officials and the general public.

"PIAA, by enforcing a two–week hiatus from our basketball and AA swimming championships, believes this action will allow schools time to perform self-assessments and make decisions to promote optimal health conditions in their communities.

"PIAA Executive Director, Dr. Robert A. Lombardi, stated; 'The Board of Directors are committed to promoting an environment of healthy athletic competition that is consistent with current health department and the Centers for the Disease Control guidelines.' The PIAA Sports Medicine Committee will be meeting this weekend for further discussion.

"Modifications to the tournaments will include limiting team and spectator parties, health re-certification by authorized medical professionals and changes to game day procedures. Additional direction to competing schools will be provided over the coming days in consultation with school administrators, local, state health and governmental authorities."

District 6 Class AAA boys champion Richland defeated South Allegheny 68-58 at Armstrong High School on Wednesday night and was preparing for a Saturday date against District 7 champion North Catholic when news of the suspension broke.

"We can only control what we can control," Richland boys coach Greg Burke said. "When I look at it, it's just going to give us some extra time to get our bodies right, get healthy again and get back in the gym and work on details. We want to maintain the things we do well and work on the other things. We'll probably have a scrimmage with another school that's still in the PIAA Tournament to help us prepare for North Catholic."

Burke said while the suspension is a disappointing disruption to a memorable season, it is important to keep the health of players, coaches and fans at the forefront.

"No matter what, it's a high school basketball game and though it makes life's fond memories, we have to put it in perspective and do what is best to keep everyone safe and healthy," Burke said. "Right now we just have to wait, watch it play out and take care of everyone and keep them healthy. In our community I know we'll still have the support in two weeks that we would have had on Saturday."

Forest Hills girls basketball coach Carol Cecere's team is coming off a stunning 55-48 victory over highly-regarded Villa Maria Academy at Clarion University on Wednesday night. The District 6 Class AAAA champion Rangers trailed 13-0 before battling back. Forest Hills was to play District 7 champion North Catholic on Saturday.

"We waited two weeks to start playing in the PIAA state tournament after our district championship," said Cecere, whose team won its sixth consecutive 6-AAAA crown on Feb. 22 and began state play on March 7. "There have been times in the past when we've had that wait and we had given them days off. This year we didn't take a day off. We went Monday through Friday. We practiced every day. We tried to be real creative with the way we practiced.

"We watched some film. We did some shooting. We mixed it up. Every day was a little bit different and we focused on different things. That's how I'll handle that again. We'll take Thursday off and we'll probably be back in Friday."

Cecere said the Rangers simply will follow the PIAA's lead.

"I take care of my team. But I don't know what it would be like to take care of all teams or have to worry about all programs," Cecere said. "I think that they're probably following what is almost like a true domino effect (that occurred on Wednesday). On the way to the game we were reading about it. We saw Ohio had their (tournament) postponed. I sort of had a feeling that it was going to be inevitable."

Cecere said how the delay will impact spring sports, which now are practicing, remains to be seen.

"For me it's still basketball season," Cecere said. "For the softball coach, her season is just beginning and she has a couple girls who play softball. We're going to have to work out a schedule that accommodates both programs. She's been really great saying, 'The girls can stay and work for you.' But one of my starters, Taylor Burda, is a starter for her too."

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.

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